WASHINGTON – A new bill introduced in the U.S. Senate and House today would make expiration date labeling on food less confusing, helping to eliminate a key cause of consumer food waste in the U.S.
Forty percent of food in America goes uneaten, and consumers are responsible for more of that waste than grocery stores, restaurants or any other part of the supply chain. Confusing date labels are a major contributor to consumer waste, often misinterpreted as an indicator that food could make them sick and must be tossed.
The companion bills, introduced by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) in the Senate and Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) in the House, would establish standard federal rules for the dates on food labels.
The bill comes on the heels of a new national public service campaign from the Natural Resources Defense Council and Ad Council called Save The Food that is designed to combat consumer food waste. You can watch TV PSA here.
A statement follows from Dana Gunders, Senior Scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council and author of the Waste-Free Kitchen Handbook:
“Contrary to popular belief, expiration date labels often don’t indicate whether food is still safe to eat. As a result, we are tossing massive amounts of perfectly good food in the trash—along with all of the water, climate pollution, and money it took to get it to our fridge. This bill will help clarify the true meaning of the dates on food labels, giving consumers a better sense of food’s freshness, so we can keep more on our plates and out of the landfill.”
There are currently no federal rules that set standard ways to date food labels, with the exception of infant formula. State and local rules vary and in most instances, industry practice is to print dates based on the manufacturers’ suggestions for when food is likely to be at its freshest or peak quality.
Studies show that up to 90 percent of Americans are misinterpreting date labels and throwing food away prematurely, under the misconception that it’s necessary to protect their families’ health.
Last fall, the Obama administration set a target for reducing U.S. food waste 50 percent nationwide by 2030. The United Nations issued a similar goal days later. With consumers responsible for the bulk of food waste in America, and misleading date labels a key cause of consumer confusion, this bill can help reach those goals.
When good food goes to waste, so do all of the resources used to grow, store and transport it:
- If global food loss and waste was a country, it would have the world’s largest greenhouse gas footprint after the U.S. and China.
- 28 percent of the world’s agricultural land—an area larger than Canada—is used to grow food that never gets eaten.
- In the U.S., 25 percent of our nation’s fresh water goes into producing food that is never eaten.
- Food waste is the single largest component of solid waste in U.S. landfills.
The U.S. is throwing away $162 billion worth of food each year. That’s a problem that’s costing the average American family of four roughly $1,500 every year. Yet, at the same time, one in seven Americans is food insecure.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 2 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.